Teacher Feature #34 – Holiday Thoughts

Today, K-12 students are on their winter break in Manitoba. Tomorrow, many of our students’ families will celebrate Christmas. As a result, a good number of our youngsters will return to school, in the new year, having received gifts which employ the latest technology.

What impact does such technologically-enhanced gifts have on our students and, more importantly, what impact will it have on our teaching?

Teacher Feature #34 - Marc Prensky - 400x300
Teacher Feature #34 – Marc Prensky – December, 2013

I suggest that there are two actions that all teachers can take.

First, we reduce asking factual questions that can easily be found through a simple Google search. Rather we must challenge our students to use higher order thinking skills (HOTS) and, where possible, encourage them to complete activities and projects in a collaborative manner.

Secondly, we must focus on teaching students digital citizenship and how to protect their digital footprint.

For example, one of my favourite research activities demonstrates how creative teachers can challenge students in new ways. Gretchen Offutt, a grade 5 teacher in Bellingham, Washington, designed this innovative research project for her students. I contacted Gretchen and asked for her permission to share her creative activity in the December 2001 issue of my “Bits and Bytes” online newsletter.  The article was entitled “HOW TO … engage your students in meaningful research”.  Twelve years later, this innovative project still has extreme relevance for today’s teacher.

Rather than ask her students purely factual questions such as:

  • “In what year did Ferdinand Magellan sail though the “Straits of Magellan?”
  • “Off what continent is this passageway located?”; and
  • “What were the names of Christopher Columbus’ three ships?”

Gretchen challenged each student to use higher order thinking skills and teamwork to research and defend:

  • “Under which captain, be it Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, or Sir Francis Drake, would you have preferred to serve and why?”

Thankfully Gretchen shared this amazing resource with her students and other educators by creating an Internet web page called “Explorers Homeport”. Although these links might be rather slow, I can assure you that they are well-worth any delay for readers to experience this well-crafted and thought-out research activity.

The fact that my “Bits and Bytes” online newsletter and Gretchen Offutt’s “Explorers Homeport” are no longer available for perusal from our respective school district’s servers, leads us into the second action of teaching students “digital citizenship”.

Many Manitoba educators, who are infusing “Literacy with ICT” into their classrooms, find it easier to focus on the five “Big Ideas” within the Cognitive Domain. For example, “Plan and Question”, “Gather and Make Sense”, Produce to Show Understanding”, “Communicate”, and “Reflect” are all steps that teachers employ when teaching using the Inquiry process.

However, it is my feeling, that teachers find it more difficult to deal with the four “Big Ideas” within the Affective Domain. True, “Collaboration”, and “Motivation and Confidence” can be introduced and practiced in most classrooms. However, “Social Implication” and, in particular, “Ethics and Responsibility” are two areas that may not be dealt with sufficiently.

Yet, with the increased access to technology that students have outside school, they need to be taught how to use it in a responsible way. Although Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are blocked in many of our schools, students need to be taught or modeled on how to use such social media in responsible ways. I feel that students need to know how to maintain their privacy and how to protect and preserve a positive digital footprint.  After all, once a photo or login name, which is associated with one of our students, is shared or created on the Internet, it is there forever!

As I wrote this month’s “Teacher Feature”, I certainly learned first-hand how this “publishing forever” concept could damage one’s reputation.  Although I’m sure both Gretchen and I are proud to share what we have uploaded or created on the Internet, this may not be true of all our students. For example, it has been 12 years since Gretchen created her “Explorers Homeport” and my last issue of “Bits and Bytes” was uploaded to the world-wide-web in June, 2007. However, if today one was to attempt to link to either of the original Internet addresses (URL), one would get an error message stating “The page you requested no longer exists” or “Server not found”. For a student who may have uploaded an inappropriate photo or had perhaps made some caustic remarks online, s/he might be extremely happy if the original indiscretion could no longer be located where it was shared online. However, more than likely that picture or comment has been transferred or shared on other servers and it cannot be totally removed. Even if it has been deleted from the original site, and has not been replicated elsewhere, the Internet archiving “Wayback Machine” may bring it “back to life”.

For me, the “Wayback Machine” is a useful tool to retrieve information that I may have published several years ago. For example, in my last post, I couldn’t remember when Rod Brown and I first came up with the idea to create a “Let’s Get Connected” contest. However, each June, I created an index of the topics and information shared in my newsletter during the previous school year. So I simply entered the following URL, for a specific June issue, into the “WayBack Machine”:

http://www.wsd1.org/bitsbytes/0203/bbjun03/default.htm

The “Wayback Machine”, without my knowledge, archived “snapshots” of my newsletter “12 times between January 1, 2003 and October 4, 2006.” I simply had to click on a black bar on the timeline (e.g. the last bar in 2003) and click on any blue circled date (e.g. August 3, 2003) to view much of my newsletter contents together with links to additional resources.

Students need to be taught that there exists applications like the “Wayback Machine” that can use to highlight indiscretions that one may have thought were deleted.

In summary, teachers need to create authentic learning activities which engage students using technology to which they have access. In addition, such learning must better prepare students to be responsible online digital citizens.

Take care & keep smiling 🙂

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/

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